By Bobby Duncan
People are lost and stand in need of salvation because of the guilt of their own sins – not the sins of their ancestors. The doctrine that babies inherit the guilt of Adam’s transgression is not true. If it were, then Jesus would have been born guilty of sin.
BABIES ARE INNOCENT
Concerning little children, Jesus said, “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). He never would have said that if little children are hereditarily totally depraved; he might have said instead: “of such is the kingdom of the devil.”
In speaking of his deceased baby, David said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). David knew his baby was in a safe condition. It was guilty of no sin, for it had not transgressed God’s law, and “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4).
INFANT BAPTISM GREW OUT OF THE FALSE DOCTRINE OF INHERITED GUILT
We emphasize the fact that there is no blessing little babies need which is conferred by means of baptism. Had it not been for the false doctrine of inherited guilt there likely never would have been the practice of baptizing infants. Notice the following statement from a nineteenth century author: “Infants are included in Christ’s act of redemption, and are entitled thereby to the benefits and blessings of his church.”1
Another writer wrote: “On the contrary, we have presumptive and positive arguments for the apostolic origin and character of infant baptism… in the universal virtue of Christ, as the Redeemer of all sexes, classes, and ages, and especially in the import of his own infancy, which has redeemed and sanctified the infantile age.”2
In his Treatise on Baptism, John Wesley wrote: “If infants are guilty of original sin, then they are proper subjects of baptism; seeing, in the ordinary way, they cannot be saved, unless this be washed away by baptism” (Doctrinal Tracts, p. 252).
If babies were in need of redemption, and if baptizing them were the means of securing it for them, then we would not oppose infant baptism. But we have already seen that babies are not lost, and do not need redeeming. No verse in the Bible hints that they should be baptized.
FOUR PREREQUISITES TO BAPTISM
In the New Testament, four things characterized those who were baptized: (1) they had been taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, (2) they believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, (3) they had repented of their sins, and (4) they had confessed their faith in Jesus Christ. While each of these might not be specifically mentioned in the record of each case, each is clearly implied.
In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). This verse clearly shows that those who are to be baptized are those who have first been taught.
Mark 16:15, 16 contains these words of Jesus: “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.” This makes it abundantly clear that belief of the gospel must precede baptism.
Peter was inspired of the Holy Spirit to command: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . ” (Acts 2:38). The apostle was addressing a great multitude who had just been taught the truth concerning Jesus Christ, and who believed what they had heard. But they must also repent before they could properly be baptized. On this occasion those that “gladly received his word were baptized… ” (verse 41).
Confessing Jesus as the Christ is an absolute necessity. Jesus himself said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32, 33). Romans 10:9 shows that the confession must be made before one can be saved: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus…thou shalt be saved.” The next verse shows that this confession is made on the way to being saved: “… and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Acts, chapter 8, contains an example of conversion in which each of these four prerequisites to baptism is clearly seen. Notice verses 35-39: “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.”
Infants cannot be taught the gospel, nor can they believe it. They have no sins of which to repent, and are totally incapable of repenting. They cannot confess with the mouth, the Lord Jesus. This being true, infants cannot be baptized in harmony with the teaching of the New Testament.
WHAT ABOUT ‘HOUSEHOLD’ BAPTISMS?
In a strained effort to justify infant baptism, some have cited cases of “household” baptism such as Lydia’s household (Acts 16:15), the jailer’s household (Acts 16:31-33), and the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16) – as proof that infants were baptized. But there is nothing in any of these instances to indicate infants were baptized. There is no proof there were any infants in any of these households; and even if there were, there is nothing that suggests they were baptized. With the New Testament teaching on baptism for a background, one would necessarily conclude that no infants were baptized.
THE EARLIEST MENTION OF INFANT BAPTISM
Those who favor infant baptism seek to authenticate its antiquity by citing the writing of Tertullian, who mentioned the practice around A.D. 200.3 But notice the following from one of the most candid writers the Methodist Episcopal Church has produced: “Tertullian is the first writer in the Church who makes any express mention of the custom of infant baptism. Before his time, A.D. 200, there is not an allusion to the custom from which its existence may be fairly inferred. It is frequently argued, that the practice of infant baptism must have been an apostolic institution, because it prevailed, and became universal, without the least opposition from any source whatever. But, however strange it may seem, the fact is, that the first Father, or writer, by whom the practice is noticed, condemns it as having no foundation either in reason or revelation.”4
The fact cannot be overemphasized that infants are safe; they are not lost. The New Testament writers said nothing about infant baptism. The only way one can practice baptizing infants is to depart from the teaching of Christ. If all people would return to the teaching of the New Testament for every religious practice, infant baptism would be abolished altogether. Churches of Christ seek to follow the New Testament in all matters of faith and practice.
1 McClintock, John and James Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and
Ecclesiastical Literature (1895; rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968),
Vol. I, p. 648.
2 Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub.
Co., 1910), Vol. I, p. 470.
3 McClintock and Strong, ibid., Vol. I, p. 648.
4 Bledsoe, Albert T., Southern Review (St. Louis, 1874), Vol. XIV, p. 339.
Are babies born with the guilt of sin upon them?
To what did Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 19:14? Why?
What reason did John Wesley give for thinking infants should be baptized?
What four things characterized subjects for baptism in the New Testament?
Do the “household” baptisms in the New Testament prove infants were baptized? Why?
The first writer to mention infant baptism wrote around what date? Did he favor it, or did he oppose it?
What would happen to the practice of baptizing infants if all people should begin following only the New Testament?