19 May Will Babies Be in Heaven? (Part 2): Baby Baptism
As a new Christian and Senior Pastor in my twenties, I will never forget one of my first funerals. A godly young couple gave birth to twin boys born prematurely. One lived. The other died. It was haunting to preach before a very little coffin while looking at the grieving parents holding just one living son.
Anyone who has miscarried a child, had an abortion, held a stillborn baby, or been to the funeral of a little one has asked the question of what happens to that little life after death. On that day, I got asked that question over and over.
From the very beginning of the church, this very emotional issue has been debated. Infant mortality rates were very high in the ancient world, causing great distress for parents concerned about their child’s eternal welfare. In the days of the early church, for example, children were often not given a name until after they had lived a full week because, tragically, so many died.
In his book, Against Heresies, church father Irenaeus (130–202 A.D.) argued that Christ became an infant to sanctify infants. For the early church, however, the issue of salvation was tied to baptism. It was taught that infants baptized by the church would be allowed entrance into heaven. Infants who were not baptized were destined for hell, though theologians differed on the extent of their “torment”.
Though many Christian traditions do baptize newborn infants there is no consensus as to what exactly the act accomplishes for the child. Subsequently, it is difficult to understand why the baptism of one newborn infant in any way benefits them over a child who is not baptized.
Catholics baptize newborn infants through sprinkling and teach that it actually eradicates their sins and saves the person who was baptized. Many Catholic theologians also teach that whether or not someone never demonstrates or professes faith after their baptism, they are still to be considered saved.
Lutherans and Anglicans baptize newborn infants through sprinkling and teach, much like the Catholics, that baptism in effect provides salvation for the child. The only difference between Lutheran and Catholic theology on this matter is that Lutherans believe that the newborn infant does have faith, though it is unseen, but that as the child grows, they will show their faith by living as a Christian. Lutherans have discovered, however, that many of the people who were baptized as newborn infants are not Christians with saving faith later in life and so they have also created confirmation which is their attempt to teach Lutherans about the Christian faith and compel them to live up to their baptism as Christians with varying degrees of success.
Calvinists (i.e. Presbyterians) baptize newborn infants by sprinkling or pouring. They also teach that salvation in effect comes not just to individuals but also to families, much like the Old Testament wherein all members of a family were included in the covenant and circumcised (which they teach has been replaced by baptism). Lastly, they do not teach that baptism saves the newborn child, but that faith is present in the child in seed form and will show forth in Christian living as they get older. If a person who was baptized as a newborn should later live as a non-Christian, they are to be considered apostate for having not continued in the covenant to which they were born.
The only problem with each of these positions is that they are traditions vainly searching for Scripture to support them. And, even if we were to agree that a child born into a Christian home is welcomed by God into covenant with Him by virtue of their family, there is still no compelling reason from Scripture or reason to baptize a newborn child from that family.
When children are present at an event, the Bible mentions them clearly, including the distinguishing between adults, children, and newborn infants (e.g. I Samuel 22:19, Joshua 8:35, II Chronicles 20:13, Jeremiah 40:7, Matthew 14:21, 15:38). Some people also argue for infant baptism from Acts 2:39 where a promise is made that salvation is intended for the children of believers. Acts 2:38-41 simply explains that everyone present was old enough to hear the gospel preached and be told that they needed to repent of their sin before being baptized. Then, they were promised that the Holy Spirit would be given to them and their children who also repented of sin and believed in Jesus with them. Those people young and old who became Christians were baptized AFTER they were saved. Those who assume that the children mentioned in this account refers to newborn infants conveniently overlook the fact that not all “children” are infants and that all the children present on this day of Pentecost were old enough to hear a sermon, repent of sin, trust in Jesus, be baptized in water by immersion, and receive the Holy Spirit in this particular order.
Some people argue that when the Bible says that an entire household was baptized it can be inferred that those households included children (e.g. Acts 10:33 & 44-48 cf. 11:14, 16:15, 16:23, I Cor. 1:16). The Bible is also careful to explain that each member of these households was old enough to do such things as believe in Jesus, be filled with the Holy Spirit, or serve God (John 4:53, Acts 18:8, I Corinthians 16:15). Therefore, the Bible does not permit us to infer that the households mentioned in relation to the New Testament baptisms had newborn infants. Little kids can and do love Jesus, and those baptized were not babies in arms, but kids who got saved at a young age like our five kids. As a newborn child, Jesus was also not baptized but was dedicated to the Lord by His parents as our example to follow (Luke 2:21-23).
Because Old Testament circumcision was conducted upon a newborn infant before they demonstrated saving faith, those who seek to replace circumcision with baptism likewise seek to have it precede salvation. But, the repeated pattern of the entire New Testament is that faith precedes baptism. Even circumcision began with Abraham first having saving faith and then being circumcised as a sign of his faith in God. Romans 4:1-12 explains this fact in great detail, particularly 4:9-11 which says “Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised…” Simply, even if one agrees with the claim that circumcision is replaced by baptism, then it still should only happen AFTER someone has saving faith in Jesus Christ as the pattern with Abraham was faith first and then the sign of faith.
Lastly, many parents are rightly worried that if their newborn child should die that their eternity would be in jeopardy. In an effort to secure the eternity of their newborn child some parents have their child baptized in hopes of securing their eternity. There is often an argument about predestination, but the truth is there are many ways that we all try to predestine people we love into Heaven, sometimes including having our baby baptized as I was as a child in the Catholic Church by sprinkling. I grew up not knowing the Lord, got saved in college, and was then baptized by immersion based upon my understanding of the Bible after careful study. Those who are saved should be baptized, but simply being baptized does not make one saved. We will consider other options in the next few daily devotionals.