A few years ago, when I was still a Baptist, I would have told you that we shouldn’t baptise our babies because they don’t have the ability to make their own decision for Christ. Besides that, I was under the impression that “infant baptism” was a carry-over from heretical Roman Catholicism which some of the Reformers were not willing to let go of. As far as I was concerned, infant baptism was part and parcel of a theological system which taught that salvation comes through “good works” – and that infant baptism was one of those attempts at good works. Those who adhere to Baptistic theology appeal to the Scriptures to teach that infant baptism is wrong because (they say) the Apostles taught that we must FIRST repent and THEN we must be baptised. And since it is obvious that babies cannot examine their consciences, and have the subsequent and necessary remorse of sin to repent, they should not be baptised.
What I failed to realise as a Baptist was that the practice of infant baptism teaches the exact opposite of a “works-based” salvation. On the contrary, infant baptism shouts aloud the fact that we are saved by God’s grace alone. This is because the baby being baptised DOES absolutely nothing; and has absolutely NOTHING to bring. Furthermore, water is poured out on the baby from above, as a sign that what is happening in baptism comes from God.
I also failed to realise that salvation is not always a strictly personal matter. God’s gift of salvation is also available through the faith of others (e.g. Matt 9:2).This means that God looks at our children and sees the faith of their parents. In addition, Sacred Scripture tells us that there is an element of faith which a baby is able to exercise – obviously, not the fully-bloomed cognitive faith of an adult, but a faith that God accepts nonetheless (e.g. Ps 22:9).
Even after I rejected my Baptistic theology and became a Presbyterian, my understanding of baptism was still deficient. I understood that baptism was the sign of the New Covenant that replaced the circumcision of the Old Covenant (Col 2:11-12) and so baptism belonged to our children just as circumcision did to Israelite children. As members of the Covenant, children belong to God, and so God requires that they be sealed in the Covenant by baptism. But still that wasn’t the whole story. What I failed to realise as a Presbyterian was that there was more going on in baptism than simply a “sign of the Covenant”. As Scriptural as the Presbyterian position was, it was still only a watered-down understanding of what really happens in baptism.
And this is where being Catholic is so fantastic! Because the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, she has been faithful in preserving the true Apostolic and Scriptural meaning of baptism. The true meaning of baptism, and the meaning faithful to the Scriptures, is captured beautifully within Sacramental theology.
When we search the Scriptures regarding the practice of baptism in the Apostolic Church, we do not find what represents Baptistic theology i.e. we do not find that baptism is referred to simply as a testimony of our repentance and conversion to Christ. Nor do we see that it is only a sign of the New Covenant. No! Throughout the New Testament, we find that baptism is referred to as being efficacious i.e. it always achieves something. Here are just a few examples:
Joh 3:5 Jesus answered: Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Act 2:38 But Peter said to them: Do penance: and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Act 22:16b Rise up and be baptized and wash away thy sins, invoking his name.
Rom 6:4 For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.
Gal 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ.
Eph 5:26 That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life:
1Pe 3:21a Whereunto baptism, being of the like form, now saveth you...
It was with this Sacramental understanding of baptism that God touched my heart on Sunday. Our little boy, born only four weeks ago, was now being born again. By his baptism, God was washing away the stain of original sin, and so brought our little boy into His true and eternal family. Our little boy has truly been born from above by water and the Spirit. And for this, I give God praise and thanksgiving!