Down throughout the years, people have believed a variety of different things when it comes to the issue of baptism. Some have taught that it is proper to baptize infants, while others have taught that it is not all right. Those that have taught that it is not all right usually practice something called ‘infant dedication’ instead of infant baptism, which I believe is the correct way to go.
Infant dedication carries with it the idea that the parents are committing the child to God, much in the same way that Hannah, when she had weaned Samuel, brought Samuel to the temple to be dedicated by the priest (Eli) (1 Samuel 1). (In fact, she did much more than that. She literally ‘handed Samuel over’ to the priest, to be taken care of by the priest, to be taught by the priest, and to live with the priest. Still, it was a type of dedication … ‘ultra dedication’ you might call it!)
In the New Testament, we read of Jesus himself being dedicated at the temple. The priest was involved, as well as the parents. Two other persons, as well, were involved, one named Simeon, the other Anna (you can read about them in Luke 2). Both of these were prophets (prophetess) of God, who were able to provide words of assurances to both Joseph and Mary, those designated to be in charge of Jesus while he was growing up.
The idea of infant dedication, then, serves to help the child to become strong in the Lord because, indeed, a blessing is imparted to the child when the leader and others pray for the child. God may also use this time to speak words of encouragement to the parents (or guardians) of the child, as was the case with Mary and Joseph (other examples would demonstrate that this is not unique for Jesus – however, the specific prophecies, of course, were).
On the other hand, the idea of infant baptism is difficult to support from the Scriptures. There are instances when entire ‘households’ were said to have been baptized. However, if one examines these carefully, they do not so much lend support for the idea of infant baptism as they do teach that it is possible for entire families to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. A case in point is the Philippian jailer’s household. If we examine the passage carefully, we must conclude that all became believers prior to their becoming baptized. Here’s how we know.
1. Acts 16:31 says, ‘And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.’
Some have incorrectly taught from this verse the notion of ‘household salvation’ (that you can believe on behalf of another person and ‘claim’ their salvation). But this is not what this verse is getting at, and, in fact, it goes completely contrary to another very clear passage of Scripture which Paul also wrote:
‘For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?’ (1 Corinthians 7:16)
Here, Paul is arguing exactly the opposite to the ‘household salvation’ doctrine. In other words, he is saying that it is not possible to ‘save’ another person! (The context of that passage is that Paul wants to calm the anxieties of the believing spouse whose spouse has walked out on them. They do not need to be worried that they somehow will have ‘missed’ being able to save their spouse on account of their spouse leaving, because God never promised that in the first place. Hence, the doctrine of household salvation cannot therefore be true as well. It must be false and this verse and many more prove it.)
2. The next verse, Acts 16:32, says, ‘And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.’
From Romans 10:17, we read, ‘So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ The pre-requisite for becoming a believer, in this verse, is that a person must listen to the word of God. Notice that the verse in Acts 16:32 clearly says that ‘all that were in his house’ heard the word of God preached.
3. The next verse, Acts 16:33, says, ‘And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes – and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.’
You can imagine the father — he is a man who is now desiring to serve God to the fullest, so he does not act in a bullish manner — he says to his children (after listening to Paul and Silas preach), ‘Well kids, what do you think? Are you in for it?’
‘Yup, dad, count me in!’
Like many have said, ‘God is the perfect gentleman.’ (So should his servants be.)
First, it would be un-Christ-like at this stage for the father to force the members of his family to become baptized.
It is really ‘stretching it,’ then, to try to use this passage to teach that the word of God teaches infant baptism. Really, we must conclude that what this passage does support (if anything) is the (biblical) belief that in order to be baptized, all must first come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, having first heard the word of God preached to them.
As Paul himself said,
‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ (Romans 10:13-17)
At FCET, we are entirely devoted to the teaching that in order for a person to become saved, he or she must have an opportunity to listen to the word of God and then respond to it positively, in faith, believing the message of the gospel. As we read here, ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ And, ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Since the Philippian jailer would have clearly understood this (he had one of the best of all theologians at his disposal), realizing that the act of baptism had no ability to save a person (‘8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.’ – Ephesians 2:8-9), he would not have tried to pursuade or convince any of his family to become baptized if they themselves had not first made a commitment to the Lord.
A wise choice, I believe, is to dedicate your child to God, and to then teach your children the ways of God as they grow up. This will give them the opportunity to respond to your teaching, and your example, as you ‘live out’ Christ for them on a daily basis. Soon, they will be able to make that decision for themselves, whether they want to trust Christ or not. Chances are, if you don’t push it, you will win them over in no time. At the time of their own baptism (their decision, and not yours), they will have the priviledge of inviting you, and seeing the smile and joy on your face, as you look directly into their eyes, as if to say to them, ‘I love you!’ Your joy will then be made complete. Your child will have had the opportunity to have made that decision for himself.
Don’t spoil it for him, and so throw a wrench in the works through infant baptism and forcing the issue before the appointed time. Of all the accounts of water baptism we find in the Scripture, the overwhelming evidence directly supports the teaching that a person must first receive Christ as Lord and Savior of their life, and then become baptized — and not the other way around. Mainly, we find infant baptism creeping into the church where another false doctrine also has crept in: That of the doctrine that infant baptism actually imparts a spiritual blessing to the child (which it is does not).
How then did infant baptism become so popular? It probably dates back to the time of Constantine, around 300 AD, who was the first leader to make Christianity a state religion. It is generally agreed upon by theologians that his decision to do this did not serve to help the cause of Christianity, but rather weaken it, for he was not a truly devoted man himself, but merely had in mind the political interests of his kingdom. Thus it was that, if you were not a Christian, that you actually suffered persecution under Constantine (we can see by this that he truly was not devoted to Christ, because a true Christian does not persecute others and a true Christian leader would do all he could to stop this). What better sign to indicate that you were a believer than that of infant baptism? And thus it was that infant baptism ‘took off’ and was viewed as a means of imparting a type of grace. But not the type that saves.
You may have been baptized as an infant, but the question must still be asked, are you truly saved from God’s wrath against sin? This, in fact, is more important than any discussion on baptism (infant or not). For, as Paul has made clear, ‘8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.’ – Ephesians 2:8-9. Based on these verses and many others like them, no ‘work’ (infant baptism would be included here) is at our disposal to ‘help us to be able to enter’ into the kingdom of God. It must only be by faith — and the type of faith that truly saves (in other words, you are truly ‘on fire’ for Jesus, because you finally understand how good he is — this is the type of ‘faith’ that saves!).
As the Bible says, ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’