Infant Baptism (sometimes referred to as Padian Baptism) is practiced by both the Roman Catholic Church and some within the Reformed churches. With regards to the Protestant version, it is best described by John Calvin and expounded upon in the Westminster Confession.
“Baptism also applies to infants, who possess faith in common with adults … in baptising infants we are obeying the Lord’s will” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536 edition, 4.23).
“Infants of one or both believing parents, are to be baptised” (28.4).
In defence of its position the Westminster Confession makes use of various Bible passages. These, it is claimed, support the practice of infant baptism. Since these Scripture verses are said to be the support for the belief, it is only correct that we should analyse the same to see if the view is true to the word of God.
1. Mark 16:15-16, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” It is to be noticed that these verses say absolutely nothing regarding infant baptism, therefore to suggest otherwise is adding to the plain meaning of Scripture. Also, it is easy to see the sequence of events leading up to baptism:-
a) Preaching – How is it possible to preach to a tiny infant that is still unaware of his or her own personhood and environment?
b) Believe – Hearing the word preached produces faith. A newborn child cannot make sense of even the simplest of words!
c) Baptise – Those who respond to the word by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ can then be saved and baptised.
Since infants cannot be part of the first two points it follow that they are not candidates for the third, that is, baptism. At the first hurdle the Westminster Confession has proven itself untrue to God’s word, but we need to look at all the supporting Scriptures before we condemn the theory outright.
2. Genesis 17:7, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” The idea, in both the Westminster Confession and The Institutes of the Christian Religion, is that of so-called ‘Covenant Children’. This teaching is weakly built upon the notion that baptism has replaced circumcision. Calvin writes, “Our baptism has taken the place of circumcision” (4.23). Therefore, since Abraham, as a sign of obedience, circumcised all the males, which included infants, it must follow that baptism is acceptable for children.
The theory that circumcision has replaced baptism is founded upon a false interpretation of Colossians 2:11-12, which we shall deal with later, but it needs to be pointed out here that there is a great danger involved with reading New Testament practices back into the Old Testament. Even if we accept that baptism is the New Testament version of circumcision, we cannot take the doctrine of believer’s baptism and make it fit with circumcision. Jesus told Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). It would be foolish to take the doctrine of the Cross and make it part of the brazen serpent account in Numbers 21:9. If we did, and some have, we would have Jesus depicted as a serpent! We understand that Jesus was not comparing the two events but simply using the brazen serpent as an analogy. We will come back to this issue a little later.
3. Galatians 3:9, “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” Immediately we see that the baptism of children is not in focus here, rather it concerns the faith of Abraham. Also, since those who are blessed manifest the same kind of faith as Abraham, it is clear that infants are not capable of such faith. This verse has nothing in the slightest to do with any sort of baptism, but it has everything to do with salvation faith, for Paul adds, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (:11).
4. Colossians 2:11-12, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” Again, these verses say absolutely nothing of infant baptism, except in the minds of promoters of the Westminster Confession. These verses are in fact a simple statement of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is the mention of “circumcision made without hands” (:11) to be seen as being the same as baptism? Such at interpretation is a direct rejection of what Paul actually meant by it. We do not have to search for a correct interpretation of “circumcision without hands” for the apostle tells us in the very next verse what his meaning is … “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ”. This is confirmed in Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” If it is impossible to read baptism into these verses, why do so with Colossians?
There are other considerations to be noted with the Colossians reference. If circumcision is baptism, does this mean that the “circumcision of Christ” refers to His baptism, thus making that the vehicle for salvation? It is clear that His death is in view here, and as such is supported by the whole statement, and by the rest of Scripture. Once again notice the sequence of events:-
a) Death – believers are said to be dead in Christ, “And you, being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (Colossians 2:13).
b) Burial – Baptism being a sign, an expression of obedience and faith.
c) Resurrection – believers are risen with Christ.
The believer is baptised because he has had the sins of the flesh circumcised through the blood of Jesus Christ. Circumcision therefore is repentance and faith rather than baptism. We only bury those who have died, so we only baptise those who are dead in Christ. There is a Covenant Relationship, but it rests upon personal repentance and faith instead of baptism. As such this perfectly fits with Genesis 17.
5. Acts 2:38-39, “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. 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.” The Westminster Confession would like us to believe that amongst the three thousand souls that received baptism on the Day of Pentecost (: 41) there were infant children. The mention of children in the text refers to ‘generations’ and ‘offspring’ rather than to any youngsters that may have been present at the feast with their parents. Even if the number did include children, they also would have had to repent before they could be baptised.
6. Romans 4:11-12, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.” It has been previously noted that baptism (infant or adult) cannot be read into the circumcision of Abraham, nevertheless, it should also be pointed out that circumcision was never a guarantee of salvation. Neither is it unconditional right to the everlasting covenant; for throughout Scripture we see circumcised Jews being destroyed by God for their rebellion.
The suggestion that Abraham’s faith was accepted by God on behalf of his children is irrational. If we take this to its logical conclusion we will be faced with an immense problem. Abraham circumcised all the males in his household. Does this mean that the females were not part of the Covenant Relationship? Therefore, maybe we should forbid the baptism of females today.
7. 1 Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” This verse is used in the Westminster Confession as a sure proof for the legitimacy of infant baptism, even though baptism is not referred to. We are asked to accept that if the children are holy then they can be baptised. Yet, can we not also suggest that the sanctified unbelieving spouse should be baptised too!
Paul nowhere promotes the idea that unbelievers of any age are candidates for believer’s baptism. The gospel of John makes it abundantly clear that no one can make another person a child of God, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
8. Mark 10:13-16, “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” We know that the disciples baptised people under the authority of Jesus (John 4:2), but He never once suggested that these youngsters in His arms should be taken down to the nearest lake. Surely if infant baptism were a Biblical principle the Lord would have done so. As we see once again, baptism is not even under consideration in the text. These children were brought to be blessed not baptised.
9. Acts 16:30-31, “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.” Though these verses are not quoted in the Westminster Confession, they are highlighted here because they are often used by promoters of infant baptism as support texts.
It has to be noticed that the text explains the conditions that led up to the conversion of the Philippian jailor and the members of his household:-
a) Believe to be saved, and all in the house (:31)
b) The word of God was preached to all in the house (:32)
c) Baptised, all his house (:33)
The “all” who were baptised must be the “all” who had the word of God preached to them causing them to believe. If infants were present, and there may have been, it would not be possible for them to understand the preaching of Paul and Silas. The preachers made it clear that all who believed could be saved and baptised.
To find the teaching of infant baptism in the Westminster Confession we must go to section 10.3. There we read, “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ through the Spirit.” There are several portions of Scripture given to support the Elect Infant theory. It is of some interested that Luke 18:15 and Acts 2:38 are used in the Confession for both salvation and infant baptism. Are we seeing what is in effect baptismal regeneration taught here?
If Elect Infants are baptised and survive childhood are they saved? Are all infants of elect parents truly elected by God Himself? G. I. Williamson commenting on this aspect of the Westminster Confession writes, “It must be admitted, of course, that the data of Scripture concerning the salvation of such is meagre” (The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, pg.91). It is not meagre at all, it is simply non-existent! Every verse quoted in support of infant baptism has absolutely nothing to do with children below the age of reason (accountability).
That there are no proof texts for infant baptism is made very clear by the afore mentioned author, “That the New Testament does not contain a specific command to baptise infants”, but adds what amounts to stupidity in trying to save some honour for the Westminster Confession, “neither does the New Testament contain a specific command to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s supper to women” (pg.211). This is rather a foolish line of reasoning for an intelligent man building a foundation for a doctrine. We can take such reasoning further ourselves. If infants can be baptised, then why not allow them to partake of the Lord’s Supper, for there is no verse that says they should not. Those who uphold infant baptism may object by quoting 1 Corinthians 11:29 where Paul says that we must examine ourselves. If a child cannot do this in relation to the Lord’s Supper, how much less can he or she do so for baptism.
In the Larger Catechism the question is asked, “Unto whom is baptism to be administered?” (Q.166). The accepted response reveals the desperation to cover their tracts while clinging for dear life to infant baptism, “Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise till they profess faith in Christ, and obedience to Him, but infants descending from parents, either both or but one of them, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptised.” The same Scripture references are again wrongly used to support this long-winded answer. It is of interest that they say that baptism should only be administered to members of the visible church. If infants can be baptised then they must therefore be considered members of the visible church. So while not speaking of baptismal regeneration the suggestion is that children of believing parents are saved – i.e. Elect Infants. Nevertheless, even though there is no statement that says infants are regenerated at baptism the Westminster Confession comes very close to it when it says, “No person can be regenerated or saved without it; or, that all that are baptised are undoubtedly regenerated” (28.5). The “all” is inclusive of the baptised infants of 28.4. Therefore the Confession promotes the very heresy of Rome – Baptismal Regeneration. John Calvin suggested the same thing, “For the Lord promises forgiveness of sins in baptism; receive it, and be secure” (Institutes 4.15.15), adding, “The Lord … today promises to Christians in baptism: not only to adults but also to infants, whom for this reason Paul calls saints” (4.15.23).
It is evident that there is no way that an honest student of Scripture can find infant baptism in the Bible. Therefore we need to look elsewhere for the true source of this practice.
The doctrine was brought over from Roman Catholicism by John Calvin. It is a fact that he did not cast off all things Romish! The doctrine was probably held onto because of the fear among his congregation of unbaptised infants going to Hell (or Limbo, another RC invention). As an ex-catholic priest Calvin must have been fully aware of the Vatican’s teaching of Baptismal Regeneration, and because of his adherence to Augustine’s theology (which both Catholicism and Reformed theology uphold) he adopted it into his own system of belief. Infant baptism and baptismal regeneration find their roots further back than Rome though.
Alexander Hislop makes this abundantly clear in his book entitled “The Two Babylons”. In pagan religion and mythology an infant would be sacrificed to appease a particular god. The child would be washed before it was sacrificed. The priests and parents believed that the god would give the infant eternal life in his presence – that is, regenerate him. Infant Baptism and Elect Children doctrines are simply a bloodless re-enactment of this pagan rite. It is therefore an offence to Christ and His church to claim that this corruption of believer’s baptism is ordained by God.
In conclusion, Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” and we have seen that He took them up into His arms and blessed them. From this we can justly assume that any infant dying before reaching the age of accountability will enter Heaven – “for such is the Kingdom of Heaven”. If not, what can we say concerning babies dying at or before birth? There is no need for the Elect Infant theory or for Infant Baptism, for though all are born with Adam’s stain (original sin nature), it is unreasonable to suppose that God would damn any child who has committed no sin. The word of God knows nothing of infant baptism, so this means that the Westminster Confession of Faith is heretical here.