Should babies be baptized? This question was presented in a sermon. My wife and I received a copy of the sermon from friends who are Paedobaptists (infant baptizers). I gave the following reply to them in a letter. This is my response to the sermon. I decided I’d also share it with you. So, hopefully it is enlightening for you as well. And helpful. And Jesus Christ is honored.
“Should Babies be Baptized?” A provocative sermon title that will also serve as a buoy for this blog. After all. We are addressing the same question in the letter to our friends. From a different point of view of course. My wife and I advocate believers’ baptism. As you may already know. If you have already read my posts on baptism, this will be supplementary. However, it includes information not addressed there.
So here is the letter.
Several weeks ago I received your email with a link to Rev. David Feddes sermon: “Should Babies be Baptized?” Kathy and I read it.
I have to take a deep breath and ask Jesus for His understanding heart, because, as it was with Him (John 2:13-17), a fire I cannot explain burns in me for the truth in God’s Word! I’ve told you this before. It may not always show on the outside, but I’ve carried this fire from the day I met Jesus forty-five years ago.
So, with His help, I have a few things to say about the sermon: “Should Babies be Baptized?”
It may not always feel like it. But this is given to you in love. Our Heavenly Father shows His love in a similar way. For each of us who belong to Him. Because He cares.
Should babies be baptized? Comparing the baptisms of John and Jesus
Rev. Feddes said, “The baptism Jesus received from John the Baptist in the Jordan River at age 30 was John’s kind of baptism. That was different from the kind of baptism Jesus established.”
- John’s baptism was “different” only in it’s purpose and place in history. John was preparing Israel for the coming of their Messiah. “He [John] will go before Him. . .and make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” “You [John] will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways; to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins [a prelude to the Gospel message]” (Luke 1:17,76,77). Paul also described the baptism of John in Acts 19:4. He said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe in Him who is coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
- Jesus’ baptism was established after He came. It is a response to faith in Him. And closely related to making disciples of Jesus (John 4:1; Matt. 28:19). As you know, it pictures Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection and our identification with Him in that.
However. (1) The mode of baptism (immersion) is the same in both cases. History and archaeology reveal this. At the time of the Gospels Essenes lived a solitary communal life in the wilderness near the Jordan where John began his ministry. They practiced ritual immersion and had a lifestyle similar to John’s. (I saw the archaeological site in 1982.)
It was a Jewish practice to baptize proselytes and cleanse oneself in this way. For them, the baptismal water or place of baptismal immersion is known as the mikveh.
Ron Moseley, in The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism, writes, “The term mikveh in Hebrew literally means any gathering of waters, but is specifically used in Jewish law for the waters or bath for the ritual immersion. The building of the mikveh was so important in ancient times it was said to take precedence over the construction of a synagogue.”
He goes on to say, “On the third day of creation we see the source of the word mikveh for the first time in Genesis 1:10 when the Lord says, ‘and the gathering together (mikveh) of the waters He called seas.’ Because of this reference in Genesis the ocean is still a legitimate mikveh to orthodox Jews.”
John and Jesus used the common practice of immersion in their day when they baptized. As did the first Jewish believers. You can also see this Jewish custom being practiced by the early church in obedience to Christ’s command in Matthew 28:19. It is interesting to find the following elements in both Jewish and early Christian baptism. . . The candidates for baptism were totally naked, repentant, gave affirmations of faith, were often immersed three times and “in the name of” a required witness attesting to the baptism. All this was done, if possible, in the presence of at least three witnesses.
Ron Moseley continues. “Because Leviticus 15:16 says ‘He shall wash all his flesh in the water,’ Rabbinical Judaism stresses that the entire body must come in contact with the water of the mikveh. . . Although the mikveh was more spiritual than physical, often the bath had two sets of steps, one entering and another leaving so as not to defile what had been purified.”
Notice the steps going into and out of the mikveh. In the same way both Jesus (baptized by John) and the eunuch (baptized by Philip) went down into the water, were baptized, and came up out of the water after baptism.
And (2) the message is essentially the same in Jesus’ baptism as it is in John’s.
John: “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe in Jesus, giving them the knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins” (Acts 19; Luke 1; John 1:29,35-37).
Jesus: On the Day of Pentecost Peter said, “Repent and be baptized each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
Should babies be baptized? Bringing children to Jesus
Rev. Feddes said, “The Bible tells of people ‘bringing babies to Jesus’ (Luke 18:15). He said. . . ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark10:14,16).”
Yes. But before He took them in His arms, “He called them to Him” (Luke 18:16). The visual image is the same as in Matthew 18:2 (“having called a little child to Him He placed him in their midst”). They were big enough “babies” to come to Him on their own. And, as in Matthew 18:3, He used them as an example of faith (and humility) all of us must follow. The same lesson is given, using a child as an illustration, in both Luke and Matthew who describe two separate events in Jesus’ life. So, what is the lesson? “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom as a child will not enter into it” (Luke 18:17; Matt. 18:3).
Let us give simple deference to what Jesus says when He blesses children.
“Coming” and “receiving” are both active verbs (actions) He believes “the children” are capable of. This is the very thing that gives Him joy. He’s not asking that parents bring newborns to an altar; He asks that the children themselves be allowed to COME to HIM. He’s not using them as an example of someone else’s faith. He is using them as an example of their own faith and initiative. The children are not helpless infants. They are old enough to respond to Him. When called, they come to Him and are gladly taken into His arms. And I’m sure they feel and share His own joy when He blesses them!
How can they be an example for us to follow if they are newborns who are not consciously aware of what is going on? One thing we can be sure of. We are not being asked to be baptized as infants. That would mean we are faced with the same dilemma as Nicodemus. So what is the lesson on receiving the kingdom we are supposed to learn from newborns, if that is who Jesus has in mind (even though the narrative does not support it)? For Paedobaptists that is a question to ponder.
Now. As we will see. At this point in the sermon Mr. Feddes’ presuppositions lead to a conclusion he gives as a question. . .
On the basis of these premises: (1) that these are “babies [meaning infants]” (2) “of believing parents”; (3) that infant baptism is the sign of citizenship in God’s kingdom; and (4) that infant baptism takes the place of circumcision (even though infants were still being circumcised when Jesus blessed the children and neither circumcision or baptism is even mentioned), he asks, “How can the church refuse [babies of believers] the sign [baptism] of citizenship in God’s kingdom?” It is assumed that these passages support or even contain these Paedobaptist teachings. But they are not there. When such teachings are drawn into them, their historic simplicity and meaning is lost.
As for brother Feddes’ question in the last paragraph, our faith is not based on emotional appeals but Biblical truth.
So, what are the actual NT “signs” of citizenship in God’s kingdom?
New birth (John 3:3,5). Tribulation (Acts 14:22). Persecution (Matt. 5:10). Righteousness (Matt. 25:34-37,46; I Cor. 6:9,10; Gal. 5:19-21). Deliverance from darkness (Col. 1:12,13). Being a saint (Dan. 7:18,27; Heb. 12:28). A desire for the kingdom (Luke 12:31,32). Childlike acceptance (Luke 18:17). Not natural birth, even when accompanied by outward ceremonies like sprinkling or dedication (I Cor. 15:50; Ps. 51:5; John 1:13; 3:6; 6:63).
Should babies be baptized? The real issue
I’m not concerned about questions like, “Do [babies] have a place in God’s family?” or “How can the church refuse [babies] the sign of. . .membership in His family?” when the Bible says plainly, we are children of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). The Bible has already answered these questions. What business do we have trying to decide who is in God’s family? Do we actually think we have the ability to put someone in His family who He Himself has not put there? If we do. Perhaps we view ourselves too highly.
Here is my question. If this Paedobaptist practice is so important, why is such a small number of infants in earth’s history given the opportunity to become members of God’s family? Think of all the babies who never had the opportunity to be born in a covenant home and be “baptized.” It’s not like this is the answer to saving mankind. Is it?
Here is the real issue. Can we trust God with little ones, without our human contribution at the start? Of course we can. He is God. All the unborn and all infants are in His sovereign, omniscient care, and He will accomplish the purposes He has for them (look at Gen. 18:25; Ex. 1:15-17; II Sam. 12:15-23; Isa. 49:1,5; Jer. 1:5; Ezek. 18:1-4; Jonah 4:11; Matt. 2:13-15; 18:10,14; Gal. 1:15; Rev. 12:4,5). In fact, He is a God with a special concern for “the least of these.”
Should babies be baptized? Reasoning from silence
Mr. Feddes talks about “reasoning from silence, trying to score points on the basis of what the Bible doesn’t say. If you oppose infant baptism, you might point out, ‘Nowhere does the Bible command infant baptism, and nowhere does the Bible mention a particular baby being baptized.’ . . .it’s just as true to say, ‘Nowhere does the Bible command us not to baptize babies.’ Reasoning from silence doesn’t prove much either way. Suppose we were asking not about whether babies should be baptized but about whether Christian women should take part in the Lord’s Supper. Nowhere does the Bible command, ‘Women shall eat the bread and drink the wine’.” He also said, “The Bible doesn’t speak of women at the Lord’s Supper.” (The underlines are mine.) But why stop there? You could also argue that “Nowhere does the Bible command that children eat the bread.”
First of all, I have found, in reading Paedobaptist authors, that reasoning from silence is a common method they use to support their belief. Evidently they do feel there’s something to prove by it. It is also ironic that even the man who says this is now making a case for infant baptism from what he perceives as “silence.” On the subject of women taking communion.
By the way, if the Bible doesn’t say something, there is a reason (Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18). It doesn’t mean we have permission to do whatever it doesn’t say, or that a positive affirmation can be established by the absence of a command to the contrary. You could write volumes on what I don’t say. And prove almost anything.
Pastor Feddes is an example of what often happens when one paddles down a tributary, away from Scripture, in an attempt to make up for a lack of NT evidence for their belief. Paddling outside the Scriptures can put one in a vulnerable position. It certainly does for Rev. Feddes. By making claims like “Nowhere does the Bible command, ‘Women shall eat the bread and drink the wine’,” and “The Bible doesn’t speak of women at the Lord’s Supper,” he shows that he is unaware of what Scripture actually teaches on this subject. And brings into question other things he says.
Whether Christian women should or do take part in the Lord’s Supper is not something the Bible is silent on.
- “Breaking bread” at the beginning of Acts (2:42-47) is a reference to the first believers observing the Lord’s Supper. The women in the Upper Room in chapter 1 (v. 14) were among those who took part in this. The Bible says three thousand were added to that group of Christ’s original followers who “continued steadfastly. . .in the breaking of the bread” and other practices (2:41,42). “All who believed were together. . .and continued daily with one accord in the temple, breaking bread from house to house [and] eating their meals with gladness” (2:44-46). F.F. Bruce writes, “Day by day, in the weeks that followed that first Christian Pentecost, the believers met regularly in the temple precincts for public worship and public witness, while they took their fellowship meals in each other’s homes and ‘broke the bread’ in accordance with their Master’s ordinance” (Commentary on The Book of the Acts, p.81).
- We usually read I Corinthians 11:23-28 to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s Supper. For two thousand years Paul’s teaching in these verses has provided instruction for the church on the appropriate manner this sacrament is to be administered and observed.
Consider the historical setting of this passage of Scripture.
It is clear that both men and women in the Corinthian church were the object of Paul’s instructions in I Corinthians 11. In fact, before he addressed their public assembly in verse 17, and the way they handled the Lord’s Supper in verse 20f, he had more to say to the women than the men. The word “you” in verse 17 and the verses that follow refers to all those he was speaking to in the preceding verses, including the women. And this audience remains the same for the historic words that follow. “For I delivered unto you” (v. 23f) is Paul recounting the first Lord’s Supper, which brought to mind, for the women as well as the men, the message he personally gave them prior to writing this letter.
So when he follows Christ’s command, “Do this in remembrance of me,” with its practical application, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes,” Paul is applying Christ’s historic command (vv. 24,25) to the women as well as the men (v. 26) in the church at Corinth. Whatever instructions were given to men on this subject, were also given to women. You can nail that to the church door, if you like. (A little humor related to Martin Luther.) This injunction to Christian men and women will bear Paul’s apostolic authority for all time, until the Lord returns!
However, there are no such NT counterparts for infant baptism.
It turns out that Mr. Feddes’ claim that “nowhere does the Bible command” or “speak of women at the Lord’s Supper” is false. So using that to defend the Bible not commanding “that babies be baptized (or not baptized)” is invalid.
So that concludes my reply to the Paedobaptist sermon “Should Babies be Baptized?”
Should babies be baptized? In conclusion
There is so much more I could say! (In fact, I deleted a number of paragraphs I originally had in this letter.) I need to draw a line in the sand. We have read Rev. Feddes sermon, “Should Babies be Baptized,” and considered the things he said. Respectfully, what Kathy and I believe will not change unless God shows us otherwise in His Word.
In Jesus, James and Kathy
© James Unruh, 2018 and beyond