Posted by: AJ the Irish Lass | January 31, 2008

Some common misconceptions about infant baptism

Originally published in January 31, 2008 and revised July 4, 2017.

Many critics of infant baptism (paedobaptism) don’t fully understand what they’re critcising and make their critiques based on misconceptions. This leads to more division over the issue of baptism, rather than unity.  No one can honestly and thoughtfully engage in theological discussion if they don’t understand the beliefs of those they’re arguing against.
What are some common misconceptions that many opponents of infant baptism have against the practice?

-All infants/young children are christened, usually at birth. Indeed, many see christening and infant baptism as being completely synonymous, even though not all baptized infants are christened.
-Confirmation is a rite for young children.  Many from traditions that only practice believer’s baptism (credobaptism) have no familiarity with the sacrament of confirmation.
-Baptism of an infant fulfills the same purpose as an infant dedication/blessing. Most from credobaptist backgrounds don’t understand baptism to be a sacrament, so there is a strong association with professing faith on behalf of the child, rather than as a means of receiving grace
-Being rebaptized at a later age doesn’t nullify a previous baptism. However, despite these claims, there has to be a belief that the previous baptism was invalid in some way for a rebaptism to take place.

How should paedobaptists respond to these beliefs?

-Christening is a certain baptismal rite not practiced at all baptisms and has ancient orgins. Christening is when the person being baptized (either an adult or a child) is  anointed with oil (chrism) blessed by a bishop. When believer’s baptism was still the dominant practice in the early Church, anointing with oil was part of the baptismal rite performed by the bishop. How this came to normally be separate from the baptismal rite follows below.

-Confirmation is an adult affirmation of faith that completes the baptismal rite for those baptized as infants or very young children. It became separated from the baptismal rite when infant baptism became more commonly practiced, probably around the second century.  Confirmands are normally teenagers or adults. The best way I ever heard the need for confirmation described was the following: “If you were baptized as an infant, your parents and sponsors vowed to bring you up as a Christian. When you’re confirmed, you make the commitment for yourself.” Often, those baptized as teens or adults are also confirmed at the same time, following early Christian custom.
-Infant/baby “dedication” serves a different purpose from baptism. In Anglicanism, for example, there is a rite called Thanksgiving for a Child that allows to the parents to give thanks for the birth or adoption of a child. This is not a substitute for baptism. In traditions where dedications are practiced, this serves as an opportunity for the parents to dedicate their children to God, in hopes that they will choose Christ and chose baptism at a later age.  Neither of these rites are obligatory. Infant dedication is often strongly urged based on Luke 2:21-40 However, this was part of Jewish ritual required by the Torah for a firstborn (see Leviticus 12:1-8) and isn’t a New Testament mandate.

-Rebaptizing at a later age implies that the baptism was invalid to begin with, so either they were baptized or they weren’t. The only recorded cases in the New Testament of someone being rebaptized occurred because they weren’t baptized under Jesus’ authority (Acts 19:4-6). There is no Scriptural reason to assume that people were routinely rebaptized because they had belonged to a different assembly of Christians, had been baptized as infants, or were returning to the faith after having fallen away.
Based on Scripture and Christian tradition, there is indeed a case for preferring baptism of believers over infants and small children. However, neither have an absolute prohibition against infant baptism. Those who argue against infant baptism should be informed of exactly why it’s done so they can present a more informed opinion.


Responses

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